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Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County v. Leach-Lewis

Location: Virginia
Court Type: Virginia Supreme Court
Last Update: February 20, 2024

What's at Stake

In this case, the Virginia Supreme Court is considering whether the U.S. Constitution and/or the Virginia Constitution require the exclusionary rule—which protects people from unconstitutional searches and seizures—to apply in civil zoning enforcement actions. The Institute for Justice, along with The ACLU of Virginia and the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and the State Supreme Court Initiative at the ACLU, submitted an amicus brief arguing that the exclusionary rule should apply in civil actions to protect Virginians’ search and seizure rights.

The Fourth Amendment Exclusionary Rule protects the right of people to be secure in their home against unreasonable searches and seizures. While this rule is commonly applied in criminal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that whether the rule applies is primarily based on the need for deterrence, rather than on the “civil” or “criminal” label of the proceeding.

In 2019, Fairfax County Police searched Ms. Leach-Lewis’s properties as a part of a criminal investigation. Unrelatedly, a Fairfax County zoning officer searched Ms. Leach-Lewis’s property without a warrant and issued her Notices of Violation for using her home as a church office. Ms. Leach-Lewis appealed these violation notices, arguing that the zoning officer’s search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the Virginia Constitution. The Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County argued in opposition, claiming that the exclusionary rule cannot be applied to civil cases.

Attorneys at the Institute for Justice drafted an amicus brief with the help of the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia arguing that The Fourth Amendment applies to this civil zoning enforcement action and, separately, that the Virginia Constitution requires a state exclusionary rule to apply in these cases. The brief argues that the exclusionary rule protects citizens’ liberty and privacy in their homes and that the adoption of this rule as a remedy for state constitutional search-and-seizure violations is consistent with case law across other jurisdictions.

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